How Can You Shine as a Substitute Teacher?

Schools need substitute teachers which is a great opportunity to show the difference you can contribute. If that sounds like a challenge, how can you shine as a substitute teacher while having fun at the same time?

man teaching using a blackboardBegin with…

One of the most notable ways to begin is to be ready for the job and even excited about it. Regardless of what school you’re heading for, what grade level you’re teaching, and which content area there is for you, you can thrive and succeed.

While it’s easier to believe your new classes are receptive and easy to handle, you have your own power to be creative and impress them, the class teacher, and your new colleagues.

Let these strategies make you more excited. Trust me, you’ll increase the likelihood of being asked to sub again.


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How Can You Shine as a Substitute Teacher?

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1) Be There Ahead of Time

Since it’s a new substitute role, arrive ahead of time to get a feel of everything – the new surroundings, the materials you’ll be using, the set-up, other teachers, and of course, the atmosphere. Being prepared can reduce fear and uncertainty.

When you arrive early, you get the chance to visit the teachers close to your room and introduce yourself. Seeing the whole setup gives you plenty of time to gather what else you might need. It’s super helpful when you are able to look over the lesson plans for the day.


2) Be Friendly with Everyone

Other teachers are surely excited to get to know you. Feel free to greet them and introduce yourself. The janitor, librarian, or school nurse will be delighted to know you, too. It gives you a strong sense of belongingness.

A friendly attitude creates an active and curious mind that increases productivity at work. Plus, creating a connection with new colleagues shows how you value the opportunity of being able to teach as a sub in their school. They will be impressed at how much you care about the job and them.

Who knows, being a substitute teacher today will land you full-time employment tomorrow or the next month. The pleasant vibe will get you noticed. Who doesn’t love to be treated with smiles and kindness? You might get more substituting opportunities and finally be offered a permanent job.


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3) Have a backup plan

While there is always the classroom teacher’s plan for you to follow, it pays to be ready with your own just in case. Coloring pages, puzzles, brain teasers, or fun math activities are just a few.

Having a backup lesson plan demonstrates initiative. If you have taken an extra step as a substitute teacher, you sure are more ready for bigger roles. You never know if the provided lesson plan is not detailed enough to keep students engaged. It pays to be wise.

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4) Make classes interactive

You are new to students’ eyes, so basically they will size you up. A positive first interaction helps set the tone for the rest of your experience with them. The most effective way to make them respond is to allow them to communicate their feelings.

Start with vigor. You can gauge how your students are doing by asking them:

“How are you today?” “Are you all feeling wonderful?”

“Yes!!!” (they will surely reply)

Ask them again, “Can you tell me what makes you feel wonderful today?”

That will surprise them with what to say…. If they reply with “You!”…. isn’t that a wow?

Ask questions or let them ask questions. This is one way for you to see who is quiet or not as active as the others. A pleasant attitude is infectious. You will be glad to see everyone’s eyes on you waiting for the next thing you’re going to say.


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5) Reward positive behavior

This is a constructive practice that fosters a cultural wealth model. It directly influences other student’s beliefs about her/his own capacity of being praised, as well.

A substitute teacher is also a teacher and you become an inspiring role model. So, even if sometimes you need to address negative behavior, the trust you have built will sound like empowering them rather than scolding them.

Commending good behavior makes students feel proud of themselves. They will always look up to you as the teacher who helped them recognize their strengths as learners.


6) Listen and Caddy

Many students feel pressured to perform in front of the class. You may want to meet and talk to them individually. Giving your undivided attention while they talk about anything lets them feel you are 100% with them.

For example, to boost speaking skills, you can make a fun and low-stress impromptu speech activity. The students can give speeches as a group, or with partners. Question and answers involving the entire class also help a student speak and express themselves.

Students will feel the sincerity of you helping them to speak with confidence. Before your role as a sub ends, you will notice how they have become relaxed and comfortable around you.


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7) Give students a choice

There is a sense of empowerment for students when they are allowed to pick choices. They are inspired to discover the results of their choices, learn new things, show what they know, and discover what they want to learn.

For example, ask them to choose between doing a project on stones of the earth or different types of trees. No matter how young they may be, involving them in decision-making trains their minds to take some control of their options.


8) Appreciate mistakes

Often, students are afraid of committing mistakes and get embarrassed. Tell them it’s okay to make mistakes. Help them overcome the negative reaction into something positive. They may keep refusing to address mistakes, but in the long run and with you – everyone will eventually learn to adapt the habit themselves.

Model this all the time. Allowing them to see the way you manage mistakes, you become an authority figure they will look up to. They will learn how helpful it is to ask for help. Not only will classroom management become easier, you’ll also get a sense of accomplishment having taught them the skill of accepting mistakes and learning from them.


9) Create games or spin things for fun

Whether at an elementary or higher education level, games add life to your topics and enliven the class mentally and physically. Academic puzzles, color art games, mathematics games, mind-challenging games, or even using technology can be incorporated into lessons.

Cleaning the classroom, for instance. After the class, group students into three. Assign one group to put all books in the right places, the next group to gather all toys, and then the last group to straighten up chairs and tables. The first group to finish gets a reward.

Reaching students at their level is self-esteem boosting. Their classroom teacher will be impressed at how much you have helped increase their interest in participating.


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10) Leave Important Notes

Some subs do not leave any details of progress for the class teacher to see and follow after when she returns from some time away. Returning teachers will really appreciate such thoughtfulness.

Make sure to leave a report of important notes and details. Be specific. Mention names of students who need a follow-up, and the area they need some help with. Include names of those who excel. Mention if there are behavior struggles and the reason why. The class teacher will be proud to ask you again or recommend you for something great.



Even though a substitute teacher’s role can be overwhelming, you want to do your best to excel. Not only because you could get hired as a full-time classroom teacher but the opportunity of sharing your ideas, impress your students, and amaze temporary colleagues.

The best way you can showcase your unique style is to come prepared. Whether you are a substitute teacher for 3 days or an entire month, express the best in yourself and leave a feeling of confidence that you have done your job well.

Do you have great tips for the substitute teacher? Share them with us in the comments.